III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > F. Europe, 461–1500 > 1. Western Europe in the Early Middle Ages, 461–1000 > e. The Frankish Kingdom
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
e. The Frankish Kingdom
The Franks first appeared as settlers on the lower Rhine in two divisions, the Salians (dwellers by the sea, sal) and the Ripuarians (dwellers by the riverbank, ripa). By the end of the 4th century the Salians were established in the area between the Meuse and the Scheldt as federates of the Roman Empire; the Ripuarians, in the tract between the Rhine and Meuse. They formed no permanent confederations, and, unlike the other Germanic peoples, did not migrate as a nation, but expanded.  1
The Salian Franks under the Merovingians. The dynasty descended from the semilegendary Merowech, first noted c. 430. King Childeric (d. 481) fought as a federate of the empire at Orleans when Aëtius defeated the Visigoths, and he later defeated the Saxons on the Loire. His tomb was found (1653) at Tournai, the “capital” of the Salians.  2
Clovis (Chlodovech), son of Childeric, in the service of Julius Nepos and Zeno. He defeated the Gallo-Roman general Syagrius at Soissons (486), expanding Salian power to the Loire. Friendly relations existed between Clovis and Bishop Remigius, who later baptized him. Sigebert, the Ripuarian, defeated an Alamannic invasion at Tolbiac (496) with Salian support. Clovis, in the same year, defeated the Alamanni (Strasburg?) and later, after election as king of the Ripuarians, emerged as master of the Franks on both sides of the Rhine.  3
The traditional date of the conversion of Clovis to Roman Catholicism is 496. He had previously married a Burgundian, Clotilda, who was of the Roman communion. The Burgundians in general were Arians, and Clovis's choice may have been deliberate. In any case his conversion won him papal support and opened the way to wide conquests from the heretic (i.e., Arian) German peoples. Burgundy was conquered (after 500); the Visigoths defeated at Vouillé (507); and their whole kingdom north of the Pyrenees (except Septimania and Provence) was soon subjugated. These conquests were supported by the Gallo-Roman clergy as a religious war. Clovis founded the Church of the Holy Apostles (Ste. Geneviève) at Paris, and shortly moved his “capital” from Soissons to Paris. He was made an honorary consul by Emperor Anastasius, a proceeding that brought the Franks technically into the empire.  4
Frankish Administration. The old Roman civitas, city and surrounding territory, served as the basis of Merovingian and (later) Carolingian administration. Comites, later called counts, royal officials of Gallo-Roman descent, presided over the civitas, collected taxes, heard lawsuits, enforced justice, and raised troops. Clovis and his descendants issued capitulares, legislative and administrative orders divided by chapters, that tried to reduce violence; these showed the strong influence of Roman law.  5
Divisions of the Frankish lands after the death of Clovis: (1) His four sons established four capitals—Metz, Orleans, Paris, Soissons. Expansion eastward continued along the upper Elbe; Burgundy was added, and the territory of the Ostrogoths north of the Alps. After a period of ruthless conflict, only Lothair (Chlothar) survived, and for a brief time (558–61) the Frankish lands were under one head again. (2) Lothair's division of his lands among his four sons led to a great feud from which three kingdoms emerged: Austrasia (capital Metz) lying to the east (Auster) and mostly Teutonic; Neustria (the “new land,” as the name implies; capital Soissons), Gallo-Roman in blood; and Burgundy, which had no king of its own but joined Neustria under a common ruler. The prince of Neustria exterminated the rival house in Austrasia, but the local chieftains preserved the kingdom's identity. Under Lothair II all three kingdoms were united again (613) under one ruler.  6
Dagobert (Lothair's son), the last strong ruler of the Merovingian house, made wide dynastic alliances and found wise advisers in Bishop Arnulf and Pepin of Landen. His firm rule led to a revolt. Under the rois fainéants(lazy, “do-nothing kings,” who were rulers in name only) following Dagobert, the mayors of the palace emerged from a menial position to take a dominant role in the government both in Austrasia and Neustria.  7
Merovingian government retained the Roman civitas as a unit of administration and set a count (comes or graf) over it. The source of law was not the king but local custom, administered by the graf with the aid of local landowners. Military leaders of large districts were the duces, who were over several counts. Land grants were made in lieu of pay to officials.  8
Gregory, bishop of Tours (c. 540–94), a Frank, wrote in Latin the Historia Francorum, the best single source on the history of the Merovingian period.  9
Decline of royal power under the last Merovingians and feudal decentralization. Feudalism implies a kind of politically decentralized society in which public power—to raise an army, to hold courts that administer some form of law or justice, to coin money, and to negotiate with outside powers—passes into private hands. Feudal decentralization was characterized by the breakdown of the old class and Germanic tribal organizations without an effective system to replace it, which led to the personal and economic dependence on private individuals; by the increasing concentration of land in the hands of a few (i.e., a landed “aristocracy” of which the mayors of the palace were representative; and perhaps by the increasing importance of the possession of a horse and the ability to fight on horseback. (This was due in part to the arrival of the stirrup, an Asian invention, that attached rider to horse, enabling him to use the force of his galloping animal to strike and cripple his enemy.) However, although Charles Martel used some cavalry in his wars against the Muslims, the infantry was the typical and decisive unit in all Carolingian warfare, and so the stirrup's importance has been downplayed. Warriors who attached themselves to strong “lords” were at first supported in the lord's own household; they were later rewarded, sometimes with land, sometimes with cash, with which they maintained themselves. In the lord's household, the wife frequently had responsibility for the dispersal of cash and goods.  10
Emergence of the Carolingians in Austrasia. The son of Arnulf married the daughter of Count Pepin I (of Landen, d. 640), mayor of the palace, founding the line later called Carolingian.  11
Pepin II (of Heristal), grandson of Pepin I, gained supremacy in Austrasia and Neustria by his victory at Tertry. The kingdom was on the verge of dissolution (ducal separatism), and Pepin began an effort to reduce the landed aristocracy from which he himself had sprung.  12
Charles Martel (i.e., the Hammer), Pepin's son, an ally of the Lombards.  13
Missionary activities of St. Boniface (Winfrid, Wynfrith), Apostle of Germany. With the support of Charles Martel and Pope Gregory II, Boniface worked to establish a centralized and episcopal church in Germany under Carolingian supervision. He founded dioceses, made Mainz a metropolitan see, established several monasteries, including Fulda, and encouraged the observance of the Rule of St. Benedict in all houses of men and women.  14
Martel's victory at Tours arrested the advance of the Muslims in the west, and was followed by their final retreat over the Pyrenees (759).  15
Pepin's conquest of the Frisians was continued, five wars were waged against the Saxons, and powerful decentralizing forces (notably in Burgundy and Alamannia) were broken down.  16
Pope Gregory III, threatened by the Lombards, sent an embassy to Martel, and offered the title of consul in return for protection. Charles, an ally of the Lombard king, ignored the appeal. At the end of his life, Martel, like a true sovereign, divided the Merovingian lands between his sons, Austrasia and the German duchies going to Carloman, Neustria and Burgundy to Pepin. Carloman and Pepin ruled together, 741–47; Pepin ruled alone, 747–68. (See The Empire of Charlemagne and Its Disintegration)  17
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.